‘Generation Roe’?: Neighbor-Care in the Shadow of Freedoms Lost

[1] What will they call us? There is a micro-generation of women whose entire reproductive lives were carried out under the protection of Roe v. Wade. Those of us who came of age with the knowledge that we were (more or less) trusted to make our own decisions about when and how to parent. We were born after 1965 and before 1972. How will all of the indicators of our lives demonstrate the impact that it had?  Kimberly Hamlin referred to some of us as “Generation Roe”:


“Growing up in the era of Roe meant women knew, even if only implicitly, that the laws—as contested and under enforced as they are—were on our side. The law prohibits sex discrimination and assault and Roe ensured that a women’s maternal capacity did not unintentionally determine her life’s course.”[i]


[2] The data has been clear for decades: protections afforded by the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision improved maternal health, boosted women’s education-levels, and positively impacted their earning potential.  Linda Goler Blount spelled it out in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times:


“For all women in the United States, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade will reverse half a century of progress in women’s healthcare. For Black women, this decision represents something even more sinister. For us, losing access to legal abortion could spell the difference between life and death.”[ii]


[3] Because women’s reproductive health exists at the nexus of race and economics, women of color already disproportionately bear the burden of decreased access to abortion care services in the United States. Now, even more will die. Even more women and children will live in poverty. Generational trauma will persist and potentially increase.


[4] In advance of the SCOTUS ruling on Dobbs v. Mississippi, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee that “eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades.”[iii] These decades of progress have defined my life. I was born in 1971, Roe was decided in 1973. Eight months after I turned 50, Roe was turned over to the ash heap of history.


[5] The fact that I have a college degree and multiple advanced degrees, and that I achieved them all before I turned 30, is due in no small measure to my ability to manage my own reproductive years. I knew that I could plan whether and when to parent. The fact that I could envision an educated and professional life to which I was called, and that I could work to achieve it, was made possible within a network of legal protections that are now eroded. The additional fact that women of this micro-generation are now in the early years of menopause means that this decision bookended the conditions of our entire reproductive lives.


[6] The cultural conditions that awarded unearned privilege to my white skin and heteronormative marriage also play a crucial role in this life story. This is also why white, educated, and economically secure women will continue to have some restricted access to abortion care, with the ability to travel, to take time away from home and work, and even to choose in which state they want to live. Poor women and women of color will continue to have fewer of those advantages, and we will continue to see the effects of these disparities as they compound.


[7] Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics tell a story of progress that is now threatened: Just 11 percent of women aged 25-64 held a college degree in 1970, and in 2016 that number nearly quadrupled to 42 percent. Additionally, “Women’s earnings as a proportion of men’s earnings also have grown over time. In 1979, women working full time earned 62 percent of what men earned; in 2016, women’s earnings were 82 percent of men’s.”[iv] As Yellen indicated, without a network of legal and social protections, women’s earnings will fall and the economic stability of their families will worsen.


[8] We are about to see the difference that it made for those of us now in the early years of menopausal living, that we were able to get here at all. Those of us who could survive the dangers of pregnancies wanted and unwanted. We were able to have the education levels and the quality of life and the families that we more or less could choose.


[9] So, what will we do with these advantages, these freedoms now lost to our younger neighbors? Hamlin issued a challenge, knowing that this day would come:


“Moving forward, the women of Generation Roe must continue to speak out and join forces with other generations of activists to ensure we will not be the only ones to have experienced full personhood, unencumbered by laws seeking to define all women as mothers whose interests are subsumed by their children, born and unborn.”[v]


[10] Our vocation is to be a living testament to these legal protections and to work to serve those whose lives remain more precarious. In the newly published book The Crux of Theology: Luther’s Theology and Our Work for Freedom, Justice, and Peace, edited by Allen G. Jorgenson and Kristen E. Kvam, I write about ways that a Lutheran understanding of freedom brings with it a responsibility to attend to the needs of our neighbor. There is paradox built in to this concept in ways that a person is both bound and free, embodied and spiritual.


 “Subjecting and conforming the body to the soul has an ultimate purpose: It is so that the Christian ‘can serve others more genuinely and more freely.’ This is the part of a person’s life wherein she interacts with others (coram hominibus) in the world (coram mundo) through work, community and politics.


“As Luther said, the Christian must ‘speak, act, and live with other human beings, just as Christ was “made in human likeness and found in human form.”’ The purpose is to be God in the world with and for other people just as Jesus was. ‘For this reason, in all of one’s works a person should in this context be shaped by and contemplate this thought alone: to serve and benefit others in everything that may be done, having nothing else in view except the need and advantage of the neighbor.’


“Notice how completely contrary to contemporary Christian claims to use religious freedom this statement is. Luther argues that whatever a person does in life, the service and benefit of the neighbor should be her only concern. This is what it means to live out the gospel; this is what it looks like for a Christian to truly understand freedom conferred by the grace of God. She considers nothing ‘except the need and advantage of the neighbor.’ Nothing. Especially not her own salvation and righteousness, because that is already taken care of.” [vi]


In a post-Roe world, federal law no longer protects my neighbor. My call to do so has just been amplified, and so has yours. It must become the call of this generation.




[i] Kimberly Hamlin, “Generation Roe: Have We Always Known Roe Was an Aberrance Only Two Generations Would Experience?” Ms Magazine, January 21, 2022. Online: https://msmagazine.com/2022/01/21/generation-roe-v-wade-pro-choice-dobbs-v-jackson/

[ii] Linda Goler Blount, “The end of Roe will be a death sentence for many Black women.” Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2022. Online: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-06-24/black-women-abortion-roe-v-wade-maternal-mortality

[iii] Alicia Adamczyk, “Yellen: Overturning Roe v. Wade would ‘have very damaging effects on the economy’ and ‘set women back decades’” Fortune Magazine, May 10, 2022. Online: https://fortune.com/2022/05/10/yellen-overturning-roe-v-wade-would-set-women-back-decades/

[iv] United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. “A look at women’s education and earnings since the 1970s.” December 27, 2017. Online: https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2017/a-look-at-womens-education-and-earnings-since-the-1970s.htm#:~:text=The%20educational%20attainment%20of%20women,with%2011%20percent%20in%201970.

[v] Hamlin.

[vi] Caryn Riswold. “Already Freed, Christians Should Serve (Cake): Religious Freedom Claims and Christian Privilege,” in Allen G. Jorgenson and Kristen E. Kvam, editors. The Crux of Theology: Luther’s Theology and Our Work for Freedom, Justice, and Peace. Minneapolis: Lexington/Fortress Academic. 2022. p. 11-26. The quotes from Luther are from Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian (1520)” in The Annotated Luther: The Roots of Reform, Volume 1, edited by Timothy J. Wengert. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015. (pp. 467-538).p. 520

Dr. Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold, Ph.D., is Professor of Religion and serves as the Mike and Marge McCoy Family Distinguished Chair in Lutheran Heritage and Mission at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.